Monday, February 23, 2009

A Short Tour

The snow fell like it meant business early last week, but just as quickly as it came, it left without saying a protracted goodbye. That's a good thing. I hate the sight of soot on snow.

With the sun out and temperatures above single digits (I'm thinking in Celsius), I ventured outside to take some pictures and have a look at what was going on near the station. Tamara asked me for a look at what has changed in Niigata and the station is a good place to start.

This is the back of the station, and it looks like a mess. There used to be a couple of huge parking lots but they've been torn up to build what appears to be a winding road that leads right up to the entrance. The two rectangular staircases encased in glass and a walkway are supposed to help increase foot traffic around the back of the station. The big magnet of course is the white building on the right.

Bic Camera opened a three-story superstore here last Friday. I went there on Sunday so the crowds were a bit smaller. They're having special one-day sales all this week; come buy a hi-def TV today! You need a bicycle? They've got 'em. Liquor? Yes, ma'am! Some people think it is Big Camera, but check the katakana, folks -- ビックカメラ.

All of this is happening on the east side of the station. Go through the east passage and it will look like this:

Brightly lit. White walls. Lots of glass. It'll remind you of the areas in Tokyo Station near the bullet train entrances.

So, what's happening on the west side of the station? Well, it's gonna be death for Yodobashi Camera. Everybody will be visiting the new superstore so business is gonna die a slow death. I'm sure they've got exit strategies in place -- a new location, a new building and, wham, business is back.

Speaking of exits, here's what the west passageway looks like now:

Notice what's missing? Yeah, the homeless and their cardboard-box village are all gone. Liza-chan told me that when the Emperor came for a visit recently, the homeless people got "relocated." Also missing were the swallows that used to nest there:

Conspiracy? Here's a picture I took from 2003:

And you thought apartments in Tokyo were cramped.

About a 10-minute bicycle ride from the station is the new main library of Niigata City:

Looks kinda like the crown of a shimeji mushroom, doesn't it? The library is so popular that there is a wait to get into the parking lot. It is two floors with banks of computers, study rooms and -- most impressively -- three long shelves of books in English. If you've ever been to the Prefectural library in Toyano, you know just how impressive "three shelves" sound. Plus, the city library is brand new, so the building doesn't have that musty, radiator-steamed carpet smell.

Oh. Daiei is gone. Replaced by:

In addition to more clothing shops than you can count, LoveLa Bandai is also home to Kinokuniya, which used to be across the street. A reasonably-priced supermarket is in the basement. Notice Rainbow Tower on the left side of the picture. 450¥ will get you to the top.

Other sites on my tour:

The NST broadcast studio, on the banks of the Shinano River.

Bandai Bridge with Toki Messe (朱鷺メッセ) behind it. "Messe" is mess-ay, not a mess.

Yuki's hospital. If you ever get sick in Niigata, Yuki recommends that you not go there.


In other news...
*Now, you're probably thinking...he did a lot of walking that Sunday. Nope. I've reclaimed an unused bicycle from the construction field next to the apartment building:

The basket is falling apart and the back wheel likes to stay flat rather than inflated, but it beats walking. There's a Hokuetsu High School (北越高校) sticker on the back, so if anybody from that school is missing a bike, you come find me and reclaim what is rightfully yours. Until then, I will keep it in working condition, which is much better than what it was two weeks ago.

*Wanna see another vending machine?

Milk in glass bottles!!! Coffee milk too! Can't beat that.

*Liza told me that Niigata's female high school students wear the shortest skirts in all of Japan. When they go on school trips to Okinawa, administrators there take out rulers and there is much tsk-tsking as measurements are done in public. Congratulations, young ladies of Niigata! Nothing comes without determination.

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